Chapter 3

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    The next morning brings rain. I lay in bed, listening to the sound of the water hitting the glass, then running down the side of the house. For a moment, I imagine I am back in my own house, my dog keeping my legs warm with his head. It is a peaceful memory. I don't like to imagine what they did to my poor dog when my family was caught by the Holy.

When I open my bedroom door, I smell the familiar scent of bacon. The smell is stronger in the kitchen, but the sight of the Colonel leaning over the stove makes my stomach turn. Without looking at me, he speaks. "You're late."

I gulp, nodding helplessly. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry." He does not turn his head away from the pan on the stove. I nervously await a blow or a yell. There is nothing. I decide to start on my daily chores. It isn't until I begin to walk away that he speaks.

"Where are you going? Eat." There is no concern in his voice. I turn back to him, confusion written across my face. "I am not like the Uncles, I won't starve you because you made a mistake." I still do not take a seat, and I see he jaw clench under his skin. "Sit and eat before I change my mind." His voice is raised now. I sit quickly, my dress catching on the edge of the table.

The Colonel places a full plate of food in front of me and I thankfully begin eating. He sits and does the same, shoveling spoonful after spoonful into his mouth. I manage to tear my eyes away from his face, staring down at the eggs in front of me. Suddenly, I am not hungry. His gruff voice breaks me from my reverie as he speaks, his mouth full of food. "Is that the only dress you have?" He gestures with his fork to the tattered green rags I wear. I nod humbly, and he grunts in response.

"You'll buy a new one today. We have a dinner to go to tonight. Every guy in the army will be there with their wives. I won't have mine showing up in an over-sized garbage bag." His words are harsh, but his voice is so soft I can't tell the difference. He stands and picks up my plate before I am done eating. His hand grazes my wrist and I feel as though I have burst into flames. Strange, I kind of enjoy it. "Go, before the rain picks back up."

The dress shops is nearly empty when I arrive. An elderly woman comes to my aide. He face is sunken in, and the wrinkles in her forehead and around her puffy eyes are deep. A yellowing bruise is prominent under her eye, but she tries her best to hide it. I cannot help but notice her eyes nervously fluttering between me and the guards at the door. "Blessed day, miss. How may I help you?" Her voice is hoarse, but robotic.

"Blessed day. My husband has sent me for a dress for the night's military dinner." I speak softly, but at the mention of the military, the guards are at my side. I feel the hairs on my neck begin to stand as I glance down at their weapons. "Purple, if you can, please." I smile slightly, and the woman nods eagerly.

"You heard her. Move!" One of the guards yell, making both the woman and me jump out of our skins. She winces and disappears behind the racks. The guards make it hard for me to breathe, but I do my best not to act nervous. "You're the Colonel's wife, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am."

"Good man, the colonel."

My breath catches in my throat as I try to think of an acceptable answer. If by that, you mean he is quite possibly the most attractive man, yet the rudest, I have ever met, then yes. "He is... very in tune with the Lord."

I sigh in relief as the woman comes back with a dress. She leads me away from the guards and toward a fitting room. "Here you are, miss. Let me know when you've finished." I nod slightly and she hands me the dress, closing the door. I look at myself in the mirror. I can hardly recognize myself. Something seems... off. I shake the thought and undress. My ribs show through my skin and I think of my time in the School, how many meals I was deprived. I don't turn around. I'm not sure I would handle seeing the scars from the whips on my back. My eyes well with tears as I remember the pain.

I squeeze my eyes shut to purge the memory from my mind. I run my fingertips over the fabric of the dress, and a small smile comes to my face. I slip it on, and the smile grows. The top is form-fitting, but not suffocating. The sleeves reach my wrists, and the bottom reaches my feet and is flowy. I smooth out my hair, feeling just for a moment as though I am the prettiest woman in the world.

The woman knocks, then opens the door. Her eyes light up. "Oh, you look so lovely, dear." She whispers, barely audible. Then, louder, "Will you be buying it?"

I nod, handing her the money. "I'll wear it out. Thank you."

When I arrive at home, the Colonel is not there. There is a note on the dining room table that reads, "Dinner is at 8:00 sharp. Be ready at 7:30, or I will leave you here." I sigh and shake my head slightly, heading up to my room. I might as well freshen up before what I am assuming will be the night of my life.

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